A military post and a college town were among the top local areas for new coronavirus infections across Oklahoma in the past week.
The Fort Sill ZIP code in southwest Oklahoma had the state’s largest increase in active coronavirus cases, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The 73503 ZIP code had active cases jump to 178 by Friday, up from 55 active cases a week ago. Fort Sill has had a mask mandate for indoor buildings since July 20.
Ygal Kaufman, a public affairs specialist for the post, said some of the spike could be related to a pocket of infections in a 1-79th Field Artillery training group, which was on the cusp of graduation last week. The post didn’t release the exact numbers of those affected, but Kaufman said they either went into quarantine or sought medical attention.
A Stillwater ZIP code, 74074, saw another 59 active cases in the past week, bringing it to 102 active cases by Friday. Oklahoma State University classes resumed Aug. 17. College administrators and city officials have asked students to heed coronavirus precautions, even as photos and videos circulated on social media showing packed bars and clubs off campus. OSU launched a COVID-19 dashboard earlier this week.
Other hot spots for new active cases in the past week included Enid and McLoud, which has been dealing with an outbreak at a state prison. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said 192 inmates at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center had coronavirus infections as of Thursday.
The number of COVID-19 deaths continued to climb in the past week, with the state now recording 786 deaths. That’s up 10% in the past week. Meanwhile, positive cases rose to 56,260 on Friday. There are now more than 7,700 active cases of coronavirus infections across the state, according to health department data.
The health department on Friday added eight more counties to its weekly alert map under the “orange” risk zone. Thirty-eight counties are now under that designation, which triggers recommendations to wear face coverings in public settings for people older than 11 and all restaurant staff.
Members of the State Board of Education heard COVID-19 updates on Thursday from the first few weeks of school. About one-third of the state’s 536 districts are not mandating face coverings in school, according to a Oklahoma State Department of Education survey. The state board declined to issue a statewide mandate for masks in schools at its July meeting, preferring instead to issue recommendations. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister left open the possibility that the board could take up a mask mandate at a future meeting. (Story continues below)
Oklahoma House Democrats called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to form a new task force for the state’s coronavirus response that would include more lawmakers, scientists and rural residents. They said Stitt had not been forthcoming about a series of secret reports issued to the state by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. After an outcry from some local officials, the state health department began providing the White House reports on its website.
“The governor often talks of Oklahomans exercising personal responsibility in their response to this pandemic,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman. “Our question is how are Oklahoma and supposed to exercise personal responsibility when their government doesn’t give them all the information?”
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said Democrats were trying to politicize the response and the health department already provides detailed county data and guidance for local officials and the public.
“The Governor’s Solution Task Force, which consists of medical doctors, state and local public health officials and other dedicated public servants, has been meeting constantly since March,” Hannema said in a statement.
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.